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Let's Explore Preschool Maths

You cannot start too early to develop great mathematical skills. The preschool classroom is the ideal place to provide a variety of materials to form the basis of important mathematical concepts children will encounter in later schooling. But, when children are absorbed they aren't thinking about the future, they're enjoying the experience in the now!

For a teacher workshop, I created a display of mathematical materials that appeal to children. They are tactile, colourful, inexpensive and fun to manipulate. They offer opportunities for counting, designing, patterning and graphing. Children practice identifying colour, shape and size, and as many other concepts as an educator might list.

When children are playing, matching, sorting and building with materials they are encountering many mathematical concepts:

  • shape

  • size

  • quantity

  • pattern

  • symmetry

  • angles

  • seriation

  • number sense

  • measurement

  • estimation

Below are some photos of children involved in experiences that enable them to internalise maths skills. Besides the mathematics involved, they are also demonstrating good learning habits like attention, perseverance and concentration.

In my book Edu-Chameleon, which explores early concept development, I archly ask the question, 'When do you serve your pi?' I have added the excerpt below!

When do you serve your pi?

Pi is one of the most well-known mathematical constants representing the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. For any circle, the distance around the edge is a little more than three times the distance across. And pi (3.141592654) is one of literally hundreds of symbols children will have to learn to interpret and remember as they navigate the subject. They need a conceptual understanding of the symbol. We are not going to teach pi in preschool, or early primary. But to understand it, length is important. Children can use string to surround a circle, cut it and then unwind it. It’s a reference and can be compared to the string from a bigger, equal or smaller circle. Pi can’t be understood without this first step – measuring the circumference of a circle. (We don’t use the word ‘circumference’. But be ready for the child who might!) To understand pi, they will also need to know what diameter is. And a ratio. Ratio and proportion, without using the terminology, can be investigated with a wide range of hands-on experiences in the early years.

Understanding ‘more’, ‘the same’ and ‘less’ is what we are always doing in mathematics.

‘Look at the water in this glass, I wonder, if we pour it into that jar, will it be more than half, or less than half?’

‘I wonder which block weighs more?’

‘Oh, you have discovered that the big block weighs the same as these two blocks together! So, we need two blocks on one side of the scale to balance the big block there. It’s two small to one big. (2:1) What if we have two big blocks?’

We don’t serve pi up too early, but we begin to develop the foundational understanding so that later, they are the kids who get it.

Like proportion and diameter, children can be exposed to and use many maths concepts from much younger than we think without making it a chore. They learn as they play.

Lili-Ann Kriegler (B. A Hons, H. Dip. Ed, M.Ed.) is a Melbourne-based education consultant and author of Edu-Chameleon. Lili-Ann’s primary specialisations are in early childhood education (birth-9 years), leadership and optimising human thinking and cognition. She is a child, parent and family advocate who believes that education is a transformative force for humanity. Her current part-time role is as an education consultant at Independent Schools Victoria and she runs her own consultancy, Kriegler-Education. Find out more at

Listen to The Thinking Effect Podcast with Lili-Ann Kriegler and Ortal Green

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